Close Enough for Government Work?
CATO, in the link above, has examed what they call “The Promise that keeps on breaking”
President Obama promised on the campaign trail that he would have the most transparent administration in history. As part of this commitment, he said that the public would have five days to look online and find out what was in the bills that came to his desk before he signed them. It was his first broken promise, and it’s the promise that keeps on breaking. He has now signed 11 bills into law and gone, at best, 1 for 11 on his five-day posting promise. The Obama administration should deliver on the Web-enabled transparency he promised and post bills for five days before signing.
To the thrill of technology and transparency advocates, candidate Obama promised sunlight before signing: “As president,” his campaign website said, “Obama will not sign any non-emergency bill without giving the American public an opportunity to review and comment on the White House website for five days.”
But nine days after taking office, he signed a bill into law without posting it on Whitehouse.gov for five days. Since then, 10 more bills have become law over the president’s signature, and only one has been posted online for five days — and that was for five days after it cleared Congress, not after formal presentment. Two bills have been held by the White House for five days before signing — but they weren’t posted online!
It is easy to dismiss the five-day promise as an idea that would not have changed much anyway. Bills coming out of Congress are faits accomplis, aren’t they? They are not.
Members of Congress are highly skilled political risk balancers, and the president’s firm insistence on leaving bills sitting out there, unsigned, after they pass Congress would have a significant effect on congressional behavior. It would threaten to reveal excesses in parochial amendments and earmarks, which could bring down otherwise good bills. Recognizing the negative attention they could draw to themselves, representatives and senators would act with more circumspection, and last-minute add-ons to big bills would recede. A firm five-day rule at the White House would also inspire the House and Senate to implement more transparent and careful processes themselves.
Whitehouse.gov has seen some bills posted, and some have been posted before the president signed them, but a few things have to happen for the president’s promise to see real fulfillment.